In an attempt to save his family as well as himself, a wealthy novelist tries desperately to get out of a deal he made with the devil in Adam B Sergent’s The Devil’s Instrument.
As the film opens, we are greeted by a title card that reads ‘Chapter 1: Rekindling’. A few guitar chords enliven our ears and then we are plunged straight into darkness. Markus (played by Austin Fletcher) is half-lit and in deep conversation with someone who has the type of unsettling voice that suggests he is unlikely to be friendly. Markus passes the unseen a briefcase and unlocks it before the opening titles begin to roll. As beginnings go, The Devil’s instrument is certainly intriguing; the lighting choice will continue for the 75-minute runtime, and the imagery takes a lot of getting used to. However, what it does achieve is in providing the audience with a sense of drama and purveying doom. The voice belongs to an acquaintance called Daemon (there is not going to be much subtlety in this movie) played by the actor Cory Spalding and it is obvious from the outset that Daemon knows everything there is to know about Markus and is potentially not of this world. Ten minutes later ‘Chapter 2: Intruders Beware’ pops up on screen and these titles will appear throughout the film. With Markus being a writer, each title represents a chapter in a book and soon different characters from parts of his life will begin visiting this room.
The film was shot over five days in a single location, where using just one camera and one person, director Sergent worked on all the technical aspects of the film alone. No matter what the outcome of the finished product, Sergent deserves a whole lot of credit for the effort he has put in. To compensate for his lack of a crew, Sergent uses the same couple of camera angles and lighting choices for the entire run time. Individually on his actors in singles, he keeps the shot as a medium close-up as they continue their conversation about life, love, good and evil, with Sergent cutting between the two characters as if we are watching a tennis match. Then, whenever another character enters the room to join them, the camera changes angle slightly to become a two-shot. The lighting however will very much remain dark, dim, and foreboding. Unfortunately, it does begin to grate after a while and seem very repetitive, but that should not take anything away from Sergent’s accomplishment here.
Thankfully, Sergent has a gift for dialogue, and the philosophical musings of our two main protagonists mean there is always something interesting to listen to. The plot of The Devil’s Instrument is really quite simple, Markus has sold his soul to the devil and wants to buy it back, but Sergent manages to frame the film so it doesn’t feel as straightforward as it should be. The slow build-up, melodic voices, sudden appearances of other people, and constant darkness remind us of a nightmare in which nothing really fits and everything seems premeditated. There is also a sly sense of humor, some good acting, and a certain supernatural feel.
The Devil’s Instrument is a thriller, a mild horror, and a drama, but most of all it is an exercise in compact efficiency, in which Sergent and his many filmmaking talents excel.